Experts offer tips to catch consumers’ attention beyond traditional favorites, themes.
Summertime means fun in the sun, and lots of food. Barbecues, picnics, and outdoor dining are all common ways people gather together during the warm months, and a lot of the meals, snacks, and desserts they eat feature fresh fruits and vegetables.
The produce department is a key destination for summer shoppers who are looking for foods that are refreshing, healthy, colorful, and are in season.
It’s also an ideal time for merchandising. The summer months offer lots of holidays and themes that can be used to promote fruits and vegetables and boost sales.
Popular Summer Fruits
Alex Berkley, sales manager at Frieda’s, Los Alamitos, CA, says tropical fruits, including young coconuts, dragon fruit, and passion fruit are big sellers in the summer.
“We also see shopper interest in grilling vegetables such as Hatch peppers, colored cauliflower and mini sweet peppers,” she says. “One product we get excited about each year is our Angelcot apricots. This unique stone fruit variety is only in season during June. And due to its limited availability year-round, we always see a lot of shopper interest in the product.”
Another suggestion she makes is to spread the word about coconuts.
“Whole young coconuts have become a popular hydrating beverage during summertime,” says Berkley. “Since they are often on promotion during the summer months, shoppers love grabbing enough for friends and family to open and drink fresh.”
Try Something Different
Loren Buurma of Buurma Farms, based in Willard, OH, says that while most people associate summer with sweet corn and watermelon, there are lots of other vegetables to highlight during the season.
“My first radish sandwich is always a treat, but I also enjoy that first salad full of mixed leafy greens and roasted beets, or a super salad with fresh kale,” says Buurma. “Or some spicy pico de gallo with fresh cilantro, jalapenos, tomatoes, and green onions, or some grilled zucchini, yellow squash and eggplant or a fresh cucumber, pepper, radish and mozzarella cheese salad, or a good Asian salad with Chinese cabbage and green cabbage. I could go on all day, but you get it.”
One promotional strategy that Frieda’s is taking on this year is “popability” as a trend.
“’Popability’ is all about bite-sized produce that is perfect for on-the-go snacking,” says Berkley. “Items such as kumquats and mandarinquats are perfect for summer hikes, beach days and more.”
People love summer so much that it sometimes feels like the entire season is a holiday, especially since the kids are off and so many people take a vacation during summer. But there are, of course, some big holidays that take place during the summer, and these are ripe for promotion.
In fact, holidays pretty much define summer. Although summer starts June 21 and continues through Sept. 23, the summer season is considered to take place between Memorial Day (May 27) and Labor Day (Sept. 2). And there are fruits and veggies to coincide with those holidays, and every day in between.
“Radishes are always our first crop, which we have available for Memorial Day, so we promote them for that holiday,” says Buurma. “We sell both the packaged radishes in cello bags and fresh bunch radishes. Fourth of July is celebrated with fresh, local lettuce salads, grilled green onions, zucchini, yellow squash, roasted beets, Southern greens, and cabbages. Labor Day is our last big push on sweet corn for the season, as well as cucumbers, peppers, Southern greens and the start of our hard squash season.”
Berkley says that although the period between Memorial Day and Labor Day typically defines summer, produce departments can get in the summer spirit even earlier.
“We find the summer season is really dictated by weather,” she says. “As warm weather approaches, we start to see growing conditions for summer produce shape up nicely and shopper demand increase for fruits and vegetables.”
Still, she says those key holidays offer a great window to promote specialty produce at a time when consumer interest in outdoor entertaining is spiking.
“According to a recent survey from [Chicago-based] C + R Research in partnership with Frieda’s, 55 percent of consumers are looking to serve recipes that feature unique fruits and vegetables this summer,” says Berkley. “Merchandising specialty items in holiday-related sets is a perfect way to drive incremental sales.”
Get Patriotic with Avocados
Jan DeLyser, vice president of the California Avocado Commission, says the California avocado season falls right in the “sweet spot” of the season, around Fourth of July. Last year, the Fourth of July saw $52.9 million in sales, with Memorial Day a close second, followed by Father’s Day and Labor Day, she says.
“American-themed patriotic displays are a natural that carry retailers through avocado season,” says DeLyser. “There is an opportunity to tie in to picnic season, barbecue season and the peak of outdoor entertaining, all of which are perfect for California avocados.”
There is one obvious popular way to use avocados. “Guacamole is great because it is a party pleaser, and summer is perfect for parties,” says DeLyser. “And because consumers use four, six, eight or more avocados per batch, it’s a great recipe for retailers to promote to increase basket ring. With 56 percent of avocado shoppers saying they consume guacamole frequently, it is one of the top ways to use avocados.”
But there are other ways to promote them. DeLyser says consumers also use them in salads, sandwiches, burgers, and wraps — all popular summer foods. To help spark ideas, the Commission includes salad and sandwich recipes in its summer entertaining programs.
“Another great way avocados can be used this time of year is plain, right out of the shell,” she says. “That’s the fourth most-popular usage for avocados. On a hot summer day when you want a cool, satisfying breakfast or snack with almost no work or clean up, just cut up a California avocado and dig in!”
Another great thing about summer fruits and vegetables is discovering pairings that make for exciting dining experiences, and that makes cross-promotions a must strategy.
“Creative cross merchandising with complementary produce can drive incremental sales, as does cross merchandising with usage suggestions that include avocados plus other seasonal produce items,” says DeLyser.
Says Berkley: “Cross promotion merchandising is a perfect way to maximize sales for retailers. It offers a convenient, one-stop shop for items related to a summer recipe inspiration or holiday menu planning.”
Her suggestions include promoting young coconut and key limes as a hydrating drink, dragon fruit, limes and chilies for a savory fruit salsa, and Hatch chilies, onions, garlic, tomatoes and avocado for a delicious appetizer dip.
Summer Foods, Healthy Living
Buurma says opportunities for delicious and healthy dishes that use a variety of fruits and vegetables are endless. One item he suggests promoting is Southern greens.
“My wife makes an Asian vegetable soup with mustard greens in it that is very tasty,” he says. “She also adds kale to our smoothies. She has been big on juicing for years, and now that celery has become one of the ‘darlings’ of the fitness crowd, demand has grown exponentially in price this winter and spring.” He says drinks containing small amounts of fresh beet juice also can have huge health benefits. “I love a mixture of celery, carrot, beet, spinach, apple and orange. We have been enjoying making these juices long before they became commercially available in the store.”
A Little Knowledge Goes a Long Way
Another way to boost summer sales is to share information about fruits and veggies with your customers. Juliemar Rosado, director in retail and international marketing of the National Watermelon Promotion Board, says watermelon sales benefit when facts about “how to select” the right watermelon, along with health information, are displayed in the store.
“Especially in the summer, when bins of whole watermelon are available,” she says. “The National Watermelon Promotion Board has various educational tools and point-of-sale materials available for retailers.”
The Board’s website also provides all sorts of ways to include watermelon in meals, from appetizers, salads and sauces to desserts, cocktails, mocktails and smoothies. It even suggests ways to use the rind, which is edible, on its website.
Make It Easy
Your customers are busy and are sure to be enticed by any steps you can take to make their lives a little simpler. For example, have cut watermelon available and promote its convenience to your customers.
“Customers can pick it up and take it to go,” says Rosado. “More than half the battle with selling watermelon is to get people to buy a whole one. The top two purchase barriers are that they don’t know how to select it, or they don’t know what to do with the whole watermelon. When bins of watermelons are available and the cutting is done in-house, one suggestion would be to have the bins of whole watermelons showcased near the fresh-cuts. If fresh-cut is all you have, promoting the health benefits to an increasingly health-conscious society is also a great way to market them.”
Summertime promotion can boost sales while encouraging people to eat fresher, healthier and exciting meals. And that means everyone wins.
HOW ABOUT A WATERMELON CONTEST
Few fruits say summer like watermelon. It’s a staple of backyard barbecues and pool parties. This summer, the National Watermelon Promotion Board, Winter Springs, FL, will offer produce managers an opportunity to maximize this big fruit.
“Our display contest is a win-win for both the customer and the retailer,” says Juliemar Rosado, director of retail and international marketing for the Watermelon Board. “Watermelon is the biggest item in the produce section, so use it! Produce departments can get creative with their displays during the months of July and August. This ultimately attracts the customer to purchase watermelon.”
Another promotional opportunity is utilizing “Watermelon Queens.” Eight state queens and one national queen are sponsored by various watermelon associations, and they serve as trained ambassadors who educate customers about watermelon and bring excitement to events.
“Watermelon Queen in-store promotions continue to have great success at retail level,” says Rosado. “These young women are smart, educated, bring something unique to the produce department and can also educate that hesitant customer on how to choose the best watermelon. As always, promoting health benefits is a constantly great way to spur sales.”